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Tech in the Classroom: 3D Printers

What is it?  Known as “easy-bake ovens for computer geeks,” 3D printers develop three-dimensional objects from digital models. 3D printing uses an additive process whereby materials are laid down in different shapes to create a solid product. The machine can be used for prototyping and manufacturing in the fields of education, architecture, construction, industrial design and more.

How does it work?  An industrial robot controlled by computer-aided design software or a 3D scanner, the printer reads a design from a 3D printable file and uses layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to create the product. The printer sets the layers out on a heated platform with glue to keep the base steady. Then the machine creates the item by fusing the pieces together to create the solid, final shape.

For machines on the cheaper side, using plastic or resin would be the best choice. (At left: One of the more reasonably priced models, the Solidoodle.)

Industrial machines can use powdered metals, alloys or polycarbonate materials; and food-grade printers can use chocolate and sugar to make edible products.

How hard is it to use?  Most 3D printers come in a small size, along with software. Described by their packaging as “interactive,” the machines seem more like games than complex devices. They are fairly simple to use (especially with the help of downloaded files and software from various providers).

How well does it work?  The user simply presses the button and watches the printer work its magic. Plastic items should be solidified in just a few minutes. Considered the future of mass manufacturing, the 3D printer creates the entire object without the need for assembly lines and stockpiles. The machine also can eliminate the wait time typically associated with shipping and customizing items.

How do I use it in the classroom?  Teachers can use 3D printers to meet a variety of STEM-related goals. For example, biology students can study organs up close, chemistry students can print out and explore complex molecules, and engineering students can create car and robot parts for assembly.


Related resources

Learn how to purchase the right 3D printer for your classroom.

Read about other products featured in the Tech in the Classroom series.


Article by Kassondra Granata, EducationWorld Contributor
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